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MASTER OF THE ESTATE: An Interview with Ron Bonk PDF Print E-mail
Written by By Seth Roman   
Jan 21, 2005 at 02:00 AM
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MASTER OF THE ESTATE: An Interview with Ron Bonk
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As any visitor to B-Movie.com knows, Ron Bonk is the head honcho at Sub Rosa Studios. He's also the writer and director of the film STRAWBERRY ESTATES. A faux documentary horror film that predates THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, STRAWBERRY ESTATES was produced by Ron's Salt City Productions and has had a roller-coaster life. After being well-received upon its initial release in 2000, the movie is finally available on a packed DVD.

Though Ron works nearly 25 hours per day at Sub Rosa, he squeezed out a few minutes of his time to talk to Dark Gallery.

DARK GALLERY: The special edition of STRAWBERRY ESTATES was released at the beginning of January - what makes this the definitive collection?

RON BONK: Well, maybe because it's the only DVD release of this movie - kidding! Well, I really packed the disc. It has more on it than any other title we have ever released. You have the movie, which is basically a full length version of my "RED FILES" idea - idea behind THE RED FILES, by the way, is basically that these are evidence recordings stolen from FBI headquarters, their "special investigations" unit - unsolved crimes, supernatural stuff, things like that - and are being bootlegged and spread among a small circle of underground viewers. So in addition to ESTATES, I have five shorter RED FILES episodes, ranging from 10-25 mins in length.

Now, as some know, I originally shot STRAWBERRY ESTATES in January, 1996, with Debbie Rochon (STUMPED), Tina Krause (BLOODLETTING) and myself. But I was unhappy with it and shelved it. I remade it in November of 1999. The remake is what you see on the DVD. But there is also a "fake" documentary which includes footage from the original shoot. The doc is fake because it basically distorts the real history behind the two shoots - it approaches the whole STRAWBERRY ESTATES as if it really happened and the video [from the 1999 shoot] you see is actual event. It then goes on to say that Ron Bonk (played by Yvette Petit - yes a female - no hidden desires here though, I assure you!) of Salt City Productions bought the story rights from the sole survivor from that expedition (since I was the only actor in both versions, I became the sole survivor). Salt City tried to make a movie version (the 1996 version) based on the tape (the 1999 version - still with me?) but a "curse" seemed to plague the production. When two members of the production are found dead in the building, the insurance company drops the production. Salt City, facing lawsuits from the families of the dead, goes bankrupt and shelves the remake. This way, I get to 1) use that original shoot footage in some copacity; 2) please many demanding fans who have been eager to see scenes from that original shoot, and 3) I get a cool sort of tongue-in-cheek, half-fact/ half-fiction documentary about both movies that I took form just by watching the old raw footage. Ok, confusing a bit. If you approach the DVD and ignore any inside knowledge you have of the movie and making of it for just a little bit, and watch all on the DVD as if it all really happened, then it will make sense. Then, if you play all back - the movie, the shorts, the documentary - with my commentary, I clarify what is actually true and what isn't, and when what happened and what didn't. It gets a bit thick. I hope not too much so!

DG: Despite fanboy accusations to the contrary, STRAWBERRY ESTATES predates THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT both in conception and execution - where did the idea come from?

RB: I had skimmed a film book - I forget the name - and it basically went into detail about an old movie [LADY OF THE LAKE, 1947] all shot from the actor's POV. I thought this could be a good idea and wondered how I would do it - and in the age of every family having easy access to video cameras - I thought a documentary horror movie would be unique. I didn't know of any other movie which had done that - at least throughout the whole movie, and not just in part. Later I learned CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST did, but that was the closest, and again, not completely thoughout the movie. The idea really was spawned from this idea behind this old movie - wish I remembered the name [I just said LADY OF THE LAKE - it's a Philip Marlowe movie, Robert Montgomery]. Anyway, after the failure of making CITY OF THE VAMPIRES - my first feature - I wanted to do an anthology and have each segment be vastly different in execution. That was my original plan for STRAWBERRY ESTATES. I only shot on part of that anthology - PERMANENT WAVES - which is now a part of our DARK DESCENT release. ESTATES developed into a feature length idea once I wrote the script.

DG. The DVD contains much-requested footage of the original production of S.E., which at the time starred Tina Krause and Debbie Rochon. Why did you decide to scrap the original footage and redo the film, even though you knew you'd be hit with the "BLAIR WITCH rip-off" criticism?

RB: Because I still loved the idea, and I knew if I didn't do it soon there would be a thousand BLAIR WITCH ripoffs out there within a year and it would be lost among them. So I rushed and got it done and out. Luckily, BW seemed to inspire more spoofs than homages, and there wasn't a ton of documentary horror movies out there when ESTATES finally hit. Actually, by following BW, it rode its coattails and did pretty well sales-wise because of it. My original intention with the first shoot was to release it in a black box with just red lettering on it - "Red File 66-095: STRAWBERRY ESTATES - For Authorized Eyes Only" - and sell it in the back of UFO magazines and the like. But because BW had already presented the idea to a large scale audience, I just released it as my other releases. And it did very well thanks to it - possibly more than it would have with my original idea.

DG: How did the productions of S.E. compare with your other productions? How happy are you with the final product?

RB: It was pretty quick, smooth, simple, easy. We had rehearsed a lot, and outside of my huge disappointment with Lisa (who played Theresa Brahms) - she just never properly prepared herself for the role - I am very happy with it. Lisa excluded, we were all ready to go once production started and we shot it in four days. I feel that even though it is dialogue heavily, I stay interested and I am very happy with the scare pay off in the last quarter of the movie - once the scares start, I feel I did a good enough job with them that they are worth the wait. And most viewers seem to agree.

DG: How have you grown as a filmmaker since completing S.E.?

RB: Hard to say. I haven't done a feature since - just the five RED FILES shorts. They had to be shot quick - each over a weekend. Not that I lacked in these areas, but I learned to shoot quick, adjust fast to problems, re-block shots on the spot, and to take the best I could get at that moment (from the actors, the location, from the equipment, etc). There was no time for resheduling if something went wrong. So I guess I grew in that way - able to think faster on my feet. Overall, even without those limitations considered, I'm pretty happy with the shorts. I don't love any of my work - I see all the flaws - but combined they may be my favorite of all my productions.

DG: Now that you are one of the most powerful indie producers in the western world, who are some people you'd like to work with again - and do you have a new production in the works?

RB: Ha, yeah, one of the most powerful under-five grand producers. Actually, more like $3k, $2, $1k sometimes! Oh well, I am certainly happy working at this level. I don't have any aspirations to cruise to Hollywood and make movies. So I guess I should thank you for such a statement! I have achieved my goals. I am blind with power! I can make the average 7-11 cashier quiver in my shadow.

Ok, seriously, back to your question - I am pretty content to keep making my own productions, as well as to keep my studio heads Eric Stanze (SCRAPBOOK) and Tim Ritter (TRUTH OR DARE) churning stuff out for me with our core group of filmmakers - like Jeremy Wallace (THE UNDERTOW) and John Bowker (HOUSEBOUND) and all, as well as the Polonia Brothers. Outside of handling some future productions from Mike Watt and Amy Lynn Best (SEVERE INJURIES), I don't plan on adding anyone new. I would certainly always accept work from good friends like Scooter McCrae (SHATTERDEAD), Brian Clement (MEAT MARKET) and Ronnie Sortor (RAVAGE). But the real focus for me will be the Sub Rosa productions, and even some more of my own. I am scaling back the distribution schedule in 2004 so I have the time to do so. I have long planned shooting a script of mine called LITTLE SISTER, but may do CLAY first - a biopic about Clay Aiken. Kidding! It's a horror movie, not as scary as any possible Aiken biopic, but still scary nonetheless - I hope!

Thanks to all the fans - and keep supporting the indie movie scene!

Since you're already here, there's no sense in telling you to visit www.b-movie.com.

STRAWBERRY ESTATES is available now on DVD with all the above goodies as well as a director's commentary, bonus shorts, easter eggs and more!

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